As Iowa prepares to vote, an examination of the current top five Democratic presidential candidates brings a particular question to mind: Which member of this rather uninspiring pack would be best suited to stand next to President Donald Trump on a general election debate dais? The unconventional Trump has an innate gift for skewering opponents while at the same time connecting with regular Americans in a way veteran politicians have yet to match. All five Dem contenders bring noteworthy flaws to the equation, yet one White House aspirant stands out as best equipped to handle a fiery skirmish with the president without losing poise and getting thrown off-message.
So Much Vulnerability
That would not be Joe Biden. The gaffe-riddled former vice president has a long Swamp record just waiting to be savaged, and his standing as a tired old representative of the status quo in the face of the change-agent charisma that Trump beams out would make for horrible optics for a party claiming to want to steer the nation in a new direction. Trump was catapulted to the presidency in 2016 largely by American voters’ eagerness to repudiate and reject the type of connected D.C.-lifer politician personified by Biden. Feeding him to Trump on a debate stage could be as disastrous to Dems as Jeb Bush was to a tottering Republican establishment four years ago.
Even with all that said, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) might be a worse alternative. Facing the combative and unpredictable Trump would bring the worst out of Warren. Her belligerence, which served her so poorly with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at the end of the last Dem debate, would only be exacerbated. The hyperkinetic energy that causes her to drift off the rails from calmly enunciating policy positions and turns her into some kind of female superhero in her own mind also would be unleashed, a personality quirk that the Bay State senator seems unable to control. And make no mistake, the savvy Trump will bait, goad, and do everything to bring that out. Warren’s mercurial lack of personal discipline and simple inability to avoid telling unnecessary untruths about basic details of her life probably make her the very worst Democrat to put in front of a merciless Trump.
Picture in your mind South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Trump together on one stage. It would look like a Boy Scout standing next to the varsity quarterback. Way too inexperienced and spouting generic platitudes in the face of an opponent with a quick and clever wit who is great at thinking on his feet, Buttigieg would be completely overmatched. His cold progressive parson sermonizing would contrast terribly with the hearty populist rhetoric of an incumbent president who has already done what Buttigieg so dearly hopes to achieve – truly click with Heartland Americans.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) hopes to bring her dull dryness up against the “entertainer” energy of Trump. Her staid image certainly would clash sharply with the eclectic dynamism of Trump, but her middle-of-the-road policy statements will not move the needle in a political climate defined by division, rancor, and hyperpartisanship. Klobuchar’s entire campaign strategy is invested in the notion that Americans prefer a sober, emotionless professional politician to a shoot-from-the-hip, shake-things-up agitator. This was demonstrably not true in 2016, and there is no indication that it is the case today.
Which leaves us with the one candidate most apt to avoid being eviscerated in a personal confrontation with a rollicking Trump. Despite the socialist anchor he carries, Bernie Sanders is the least likely of the Dem Top Five to be fazed by the Trump tsunami. Sanders is an established figure set in his ways who can claim to represent real change. He knows what he believes and won’t be easily ruffled. Trump will not be able to dwarf him by his mere presence, and Bernie will be able to push progressive talking points onto the general election big stage, which is what Dems want in 2020.
A self-proclaimed democratic socialist may in fact not be the Dems’ best hope for capturing the White House, but when it comes to facing Trump one-on-one on a debate platform, Sanders is the blue candidate most capable of standing up to the heat and effectively getting out his message. In a year with no breakthrough candidate, this alone may be reason enough to hand him the nomination, and it just might also explain his recent polling momentum.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.